Despite heavy hitters like Amazon and Google Maps recently pulling their Apple Watch apps, the ecosystem of apps compared to rival platforms, with more than 200,000 available to download, is awfully impressive.
Essential reading: The best Apple Watch face and complications combos
With the watchOS 3 update, many Apple Watch apps run natively on the device itself. So which should you download first? We've scoured the App Store, tested hundreds of apps, and outlined our favourites below.
Wareable's eight essential apps
Best workout tracker: Strava
The king of fitness apps has finally embraced the Apple Watch Series 2 to offer GPS tracked running and cycling. Why it's taken so long, we're not sure, but after testing the app out on the road, results are good: distances are nailed onto dedicated running watches and the experience was stable and reliable. Live pacing is not so strong and we found that aspect a little sluggish, and sadly there's are no live Segments data, but for serious runners and cyclists, it's the best on the App Store.
Best for football fans: Onefootball
So there you are in the world's longest and most pointless business meeting, or an endless dinner with the in-laws, with no idea about the progress of your team's valiant cup campaign. Onefootball enables you to track teams and have live scores sent to your wrist. Just don't emit a huge cheer or cry of anguish after sneaking a crafty look at the display.
Best workout app: CARROT Fit
The CARROT series puts a new spin on tired app categories, and this one's all about the 7-minute workout. The malevolent CARROT AI puts you through your paces, doing 'Celebrity Face Punches' and 'Dragon Mating Dances'. Start your workout and your Apple Watch can become a heads-up display, so you know what exercise you should be doing – or can pause things for a bit if your body's about to break. Plus, if you're a CARROT Weather user you get another weather complication! Yay for working around Apple's complication rules!
Best Apple Watch notes app: Cheatsheet
If you're the kind of person forever forgetting important details – the office Wi-Fi password, a new phone number, your own name – Cheatsheet lets you make a tiny list of quick notes and shove them on your Apple Watch. Each item can have its own icon, making it easier to spot, and you can set items to appear on your watch face as a Complication.
Free + $1.99 in-app, iTunes
Best Apple Watch wellbeing app: Streaks
This clean and simple habit-builder has come in for some criticism due to its limitations: you only get to define six habits, and must set them to happen on specific days of the week. But it's effective to focus on a smaller number of tasks, and the Apple Watch app is great for marking them as done, and for keeping track via the app's complication.
Best Apple Watch calculator: PCalc
It's astonishing Apple omitted a calculator from Apple Watch (maybe Tim Cook hates Casio), but we're dead chuffed PCalc exists to heroically come to our rescue. It has a smart interface, with operators and tip calculation just a button tap away (rather than placing these things behind a Force Touch wall). On watchOS 3, everything's super-responsive, and you can use the Digital Crown to adjust tip amounts. (Generously, the free PCalc Lite also includes the Apple Watch app.)
Best Apple Watch productivity app: Just Press Record
On iPhone, Just Press Record is a very efficient app for making quick recordings: tap the record button, capture some audio, stop the recording, and your audio then syncs to the cloud. With watchOS 3, this all comes to your wrist, and you can record without your iPhone being around. The next time you connect, your recordings are transferred across. Also, more immediate access to the app can happen by way of its Watch Complication, a tap launching you straight into a recording.
And, brilliantly, the iPhone app now offers transcription. So you can talk to your wrist and later get a text file of what you said. It's like living in the future.
Best Apple Watch game: Rules!
Rules! gives you a daily mini-game challenge, which is all about memorising rules and tapping relevant cards. Easy! Only it isn't, because several rounds in, you'll be juggling a bunch of rules in your head ("Tap ascending"; "Reds if you see green"; "No animals"), which must be dealt with in reverse order, all the while knowing that a single incorrect tap ends your game. With watchOS 3, the app's far more responsive, boasts more levels, adds haptic feedback, and bundles the cutest complication you're ever likely to see.
Best of the rest: Health, fitness and sport
One of the biggest names in mobile fitness, Runkeeper is making a play for Apple Watch Series 2 owners. Although the app already enabled you to leave your iPhone at home while running, with Apple's latest hardware and watchOS 3, Runkeeper takes advantage of GPS functionality to provide richer stats and a map of your exploits. There's also a customisable activity screen, so you get the metrics you want while hoofing it along, and haptic vibrations as you hit set distances.
Free + IAP, iTunes
Amusingly listing a range of exercise lengths from 'quick' (six minutes) to 'pain' (30), Streaks Workout is a straightforward app for your daily routine. Choose a time and the app spits out a list of exercises and reps. When you're done with a set, you tap your Apple Watch. The aim is streaks of workouts over days and weeks – and you've little excuse, since the app doesn't need an iPhone to do its thing.
For less ambitious fitness types, Standland offers a more enjoyable way to meet your activity goals. Kind of like a Pokemon Go for standing up, you collect characters and rewards for getting off your butt. It's more fun than filling that pesky blue ring and a much better motivator.
If you've a medical condition, ensuring you take and have enough pills can be vital for living a healthy and happy life. On iPhone, Round Health provides a straightforward interface for setting up lists of what to take and when, handily providing 'windows' during which something should be taken, and giving you a nudge when your pills are running low.
Read this: Best Apple Watch faces to try out
On Apple Watch, everything's very much simplified, with just a list of today's pills and an optional complication that acts as a reminder. Still, simple is effective in this space, and Round Health does the job. (Also, the system's arguably flexible enough to use for non-health reminders, if you happen to like the interface.)
This one is true to its name. There's nothing you need to do with AutoSleep, just make sure the app is installed and you're wearing your Watch to bed. It'll automatically track your sleep. In the morning, it'll send you a notification with your sleep analysis, including how you restless you were or how long you were in deep sleep.
Read this: Best Apple Watch sleep tracker apps
There's even a mode for if you don't wear your Watch to bed, as long as you sleep right after you charge your Watch and put it on when you wake up. Although we'd argue that feature is a little pointless when you could just as easily hit a stopwatch.
A comprehensive tool for golfers, Hole19 provides you with hole routing, course stats, and a simple interface for logging your score. Once you've started a round on your iPhone, your Apple Watch hones the data down to what you need at any given moment: key distances; score input; and putt tracking.
Having detailed speed, altitude and distance stats to hand when careening down a mountain on skis or a snowboard is all very well, but an iPhone's not the best of devices to access during such occasions. Slopes therefore enables you to start recording data right from your Apple Watch, giving you important stats on your wrist, such as how much time you've spent zooming along on snow compared to riding boring lifts.
Free + IAP, iTunes
Our lives are dictated by bills, and there's no app better at helping you keep track of bills than Mint. The Apple Watch app, like its older iPhone brother, is a simple way to see which bills you've got to pay soon, how much money you have flowing in and out of your accounts and how good (or bad) your credit score is.
All of this essential financial information is huddled into three separate screens, so you can quickly slide between them to get everything you need at a glance. Best of all, everything is neat and colour coded, so you don't have to squint your eyes trying to figure out maths.
For reasons best known to Apple's developers, Reminders didn't originally make it to Apple Watch. (Perhaps they forgot to set a reminder to make the app.) Although it's there as of watchOS 3, we reckon Reminders Nano may still be worth paying for.
First, it handily displays your lists in alphabetical order, rather than whatever arbitrary order Apple's app goes for. Secondly, you can use the app to add new items and even entirely new lists, which means less fishing around for your iPhone when you're already peering at your wrist.
Apple's Calendar app is fine for reading appointments, but Fantastical 2 saves you fishing out your iPhone to add events. Force Touch to access the relevant command, and then dictate. The app's natural-language input means it usually successfully interprets the likes of "lunch on Friday at 2pm for an hour", making you feel like you're living in the future. A bit.
Apple's own Timer app is straightforward but limited to just one countdown timer. It's no good if you need to time several things simultaneously, unless you buy loads of Apple Watches and strap them to your arm.
MultiTimer is a far more sensible choice, and even in its free incarnation provides six timers. These are defined on iPhone (colour; icon; default length) and show up in the Apple Watch app, where you can view a single timer or several at once. Pay for the in-app purchase and you can have unlimited timers – although you should perhaps ask yourself at that point if you're getting a bit obsessed.
Free or $2.99, iTunes
On the iPhone, CARROT Weather is an amusing oddball, marrying the forecasting smarts of Dark Sky with the snark and hostility of a malevolent AI out to destroy humanity. On Apple Watch, there's less room for snark, although some is still delivered with aplomb; fortunately, this comes alongside precise forecasts, rainfall predictions, and complications that put weather updates on your watch face.
$3.99 + $2.99 annually, iTunes
If you need to keep track of your money after blowing a huge amount of it on, say, a new Apple Watch, Pennies can help. The app enables you to set up multiple lists, to which you can add and remove funds as and when you need.
On Apple Watch, the app's stripped back compared to its iPhone counterpart, but you can still discover what you have left to spend (even using a Complication as a constant reminder), and quickly deduct cash from your budget when you rashly spend some on a new Apple Watch strap you totally didn't need.
There are quite a few news apps for Apple Watch, but the BBC News app is our favourite. You get notifications plus access to headlines grouped into 'top stories', 'my news' (based on favourite categories defined in the iPhone app) and 'most read'. For each article, you get a brief synopsis and picture, and Handoff can load the full story on your iPhone.
Deliveries is pretty great on every platform, tracking goodies that are winging their way to you, and ensuring you're not out when a courier is about to hurl that new laptop over your fence. On Apple Watch, you get the same list, location maps of where your things currently are, and handy notifications when a delivery is imminent.
Slack's popularity as a team communications tool is undeniable, but you wouldn't want to scroll through the entire feed on your wrist. The app therefore wisely limits itself to direct messages and mentions, which you can reply to using succinct pre-defined answers, Emoji, or voice input by way of Siri.
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V for Wikipedia
The idea of Wikipedia on your wrist is probably a bit weird, but we like V for Wikipedia a lot. The interface is smart and to the point, letting you search all of Wikipedia or just find things that are nearby. The cut-down articles it presents are short enough not to make your eyes glaze over, but give you enough detail to make them worth loading. And the app happily works without your iPhone being on, yet enables you to bookmark whatever you'd like to read later on a bigger screen.
If you're in one of the supported cities (which include Paris, San Francisco Bay Area, New York and London), Citymapper is a must. It zeroes in on public transport, and provides precise, clear instructions on getting from place to place. You're informed about times for upcoming busses, trains or trams, and can access an outline of the stops to expect on your journey. And with watchOS 3, Citymapper's complications can put your ETA and directions right on your watch face.
You already have your commute figured out, but you need to figure out how long it's going to take to get home so you know when to leave. ETA does that, as the app always keeps you up to date on how long it'll take you to reach home from your current location. It'll also let you know whether there are any delays on your route. And oh, it's got an awesome Complication that lets you use Time Travel to see how long your commute home might take.
Find Near Me
This app is great for quickly finding nearby businesses by category, all by tapping a button: ATM; bank; bar; spa; zoo… As you can see, the odd option is a bit unusual, but the app's fast and even enables you to use your own search terms via Siri (currently a rare thing on Apple Watch). Individual items when selected usually provide additional details (addresses; maps) and reviews.
Whether you're out travelling the world meeting interesting people who speak different languages, or you just need quick directions to a bathroom in German, you need iTranslate. A quick button press lets you say something into your wrist to get it quickly translated into whatever language you need. There's also a great Complication that continually gives you translations for common phrases you'll need as a tourist.
On iPhone, Babbel is a fully fledged translation teacher, but on Apple Watch it's more like a game. The app figures out what's nearby and provides quick quizzes about relevant words. If you're close to a hotel, tap its name and you might be asked whether 'la llave' means 'the tourist' or 'the key'.
Naturally, this isn't going to make you fluent, but it's a fun way to pass a few minutes; also, a 'word collection' feature further entertains and might get you walking about if you're missing a few key words.
The oddball moniker comes from what this app maps: points of interest, or POIs. (Hence Poison Maps. POIs on Maps! No? Suit yourself.)
On Apple Watch, it's fast and effective: you drill down to the POI type you want by using a grid interface or voice search, or even create your own, for example to remember where you parked your car. The app then provides a map and relevant matches. The main app works offline, too, although it's a gargantuan 1.19 GB download. Still, that gets you millions of POIs.
If you're not sure before splashing out, the developer offers much smaller region-specific apps that are free to try and have in-app purchases to unlock all POIs.
App in the Air
Self-described 'personal flying assistant' App in the Air now does an awful lot on your wrist. The Apple Watch app tracks your flight, gives you in-flight 'courses' to stop your neck seizing up, and provides gate and security wait times. Complications and Time Travel support, respectively, give you relevant and timely information on your watch face, and enable you to zip through your journey virtually by way of the Digital Crown.
Free + IAP, iTunes
There are plenty of currency conversion apps for Apple Watch, but Currency gets the nod because it's fast, elegant and responsive. On your iPhone, you define currencies to track and the order in which they should appear. Changes are reflected almost immediately on your Apple Watch. You then tap a currency and type in an amount to convert, and the rates quickly update. Leave the main view in your Dock for speedy conversions to several currencies at once.
This currency conversion app has a very usable, human approach. Upon setting your two currencies, the entire interface becomes a space for conversion. Swipe to the left and your base value increases by ten times. Swipe the other way and it reverts.
Each digit is an editable box. Tap it and twiddle the Digital Crown to update the number within. The conversion below will instantly update. Elk's smart, bold, and nicer to use than calculator-like conversion tools.
Free + £3.99 IAP, iTunes
Differentiating itself from standard to-do apps, Productive is all about creating and tracking habits. You create lists on your iPhone, concentrating on repeating tasks that improve your life but are easy to let fall through the cracks. These are assigned to morning, afternoon or evening on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, or specific days.
Using the Apple Watch app, you can quickly get at your lists, the interface smartly starting by displaying the most relevant set. Tap on a task to mark it as done (or skip it), without ever bothering with your iPhone – thereby making yourself that little bit more productive. An aptly named app, then.
Free or $3.99 IAP, iTunes
The 1Password app provides the means to bring across some of your passwords or secure notes to Apple Watch. These are accessed via big, friendly buttons, and you can lock everything behind a four-digit PIN. (If you're feeling especially paranoid, force-quit the app after use: hold the side button until the power screen appears, then press-hold the button until 1Password closes.) Note that 1Password is free to download, but you'll need the 'Pro Features' IAP for the Apple Watch app.
On iPhone, Drafts bills itself as the place where text starts. This is fair enough, since it's a speedy and dependable note-taking app with comprehensive sharing options. Now, text can start on your wrist, through Siri dictation. Captured text is sent to your inbox, and any selected item can be appended/prepended to another, archived or deleted. With watchOS 3, everything's faster and more reliable, and the app works even when your iPhone's gone walkabout.
The original read-later service, Instapaper might seem an odd bedfellow for Apple Watch. But along with enabling you to manage your article archive, it can live-convert articles to speech. The result's somewhat strange – like a robot reading bits of the internet to you – but it can be a convenient way to burn through articles when you're not in a position to hold your iPhone in front of your face.
Ambition's all very well, but sometimes it's the simpler apps that grab hold – and Clicker is certainly very simple. Post launch, you tap to increment a number on the screen. Force Touch and you can subtract or start from scratch. That's it. Complication support leaves your number front and centre, so you can keep tabs on group numbers, days since an event, or exercise laps – at least up until the maximum supported number (2,147,483,647 – which is a lot of laps).
If Clicker doesn't really do it for you, on the basis of your life being a bit too complicated to only have a single counter on the go, try Tally 2. This app enables you to create and name multiple tallies, which increment with a tap. Force Touch and you gain access to additional features (rename; reset; downwards counts). For free, you get two counters; pay the one-off IAP and you can have as many as you like.
Free + $1.99 IAP, iTunes
On the iPhone, Workflow is a hugely powerful automation tool, providing one-tap access to strings of actions that would otherwise need you to dart in and out of several apps. On Apple Watch, it's in theory the same, although the reality is not all workflows are compatible with Apple's wearable.
Even so, we reckon Workflow's a great install. The gallery includes a smallish selection of genuinely useful actions, and others can be sent to your wrist from the iPhone app. With a bit of fiddling around, Workflow adds a whole new level of power to your wrist.
If you're a big fan of movies, you'll want to keep track of great-looking films to check out as well as what you've already seen. TodoMovies ably deals with both, also enabling you to rate what you've watched. On iPhone, you get trailers, a comprehensive movie database to search, and themed lists to peruse. On Apple Watch, you just get access to your lists: Watched, To Watch and any custom lists you've created; but these lists can be quickly explored and reordered, and you can move and rate items.
We reckon Overcast is the best iPhone podcast player, in part down to its excellent built-in effects for boosting voices and smartly removing silences. On Apple Watch, Overcast is essentially a remote for the iPhone app, giving you fast access to play/pause and seek buttons, and showing what's up next. Force Touch loads a handy three-button screen that lets you delve into your subscriptions, toggle effects, and recommend the current show if you happen to like it.
Free, iTunesFujiya & Miyagi
There's still that sense of living in the future when it comes to Shazam. Waggle your phone about while a song plays in the background, and the app will reveal what it is. Now, you don't even have to get your phone out – just wave your arm around to reveal a song's title, as well as lyrics, just in case you want to leap on to the table and wow your friends with your vocal prowess.
On iPhone Sky Guide is the most beautiful and accurate star and constellation guide, so this is money well spent. On Apple Watch, the companion app gives you a calendar of upcoming events, and optional notifications regarding what's about to occur in your location, so for example you can catch the International Space Station zooming overhead. The watchOS 3 release boosts performance and adds a complication that supports Time Travel and offers a very accurate Moon phase.
Night Sky 4
Night Sky has shifted dramatically from its previous incarnation, which mixed a clunky navigational sky with predictions about the night's constellations. Now, much of the latter has been dispensed with – although celestial events can be added to your watch face as a complication. The map, though, is now mightily impressive. After calibrating your watch by pointing it at the moon, you can explore the stars by waving your watch in front of your face. Target something interesting and a tap brings up additional info. Interestingly, the app now seems to complement Sky Guide, so stargazers should get them both.
Ignore, for a second, arguments that brain-training games really do train the brain, or provide even the remotest accuracy when awarding you a 'brain age' score. Instead, revel in the fact that Brainess is a suitably entertaining distraction for your Apple Watch, its quick micro-games being suited both to the device and also the amount of time you want to hold your arm aloft playing. You get the usual suspects here: memory tests; number games; card pairing; and that sneaky game that tries to trip you up in matching colours and words.
The conceit behind Lifeline… is you've somehow received a communication from a stranded astronaut, and Taylor needs your help in order to survive. The story plays out in real-time, with you making decisions on Taylor's behalf.
In short, it's a Choose Your Own Adventure – and many games have since 'borrowed' Lifeline's basic structure. But for our money, this title's smart writing still elevates it beyond the competition. It's genuinely tense when Taylor vanishes for hours while traipsing across the desolate planet, and there's surprising emotional clout when you realise your decisions may lead to a sticky end.
More or less a stripped-down asynchronous Trivial Pursuit, Trivia Crack has you clash brains with someone online, choosing from six categories of questions, and collecting little characters as you go. With watchOS 3, sounds are added, plus you no longer have to start games on your iPhone. Note that this doesn't mean you can then use your iPhone to cheat and look up answers. (Well, you can, but you definitely shouldn't.)
Free + IAP, iTunes
In watchOS 3, devs can have the Digital Crown control any interface element. Twisty Color takes advantage of this, having you twiddle a 'Twister' in the screen's centre. The idea is to match the colour of its surface to incoming bullets. Screw up three times and you're done. It's not exactly Super Hexagon, but Twisty Color is cheap, cheerful, actually feels like it was made for Apple Watch, and perhaps hints at better things to come for gaming on the platform.